The confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

Frannie Langton is a mulatta slave at the Paradise plantation of Mr. Langton in Jamaica. As a mulatta and a house slave she doesn’t fit in, especially as she has learnt to read and write. When Mr. Langton wants to write a book about species, Frannie helps him with it and the two of them conduct some strange experiments. After a fire, Langton and Frannie leave Jamaica for London. Once there, he gives Frannie away to Mr Benham and she becomes a house slave again. She can’t remember anything when a few months later her mistress, whom she loves dearly, is found dead with herself sleeping beside the body. In jail, Frannie decides to write her story as it may be the only way to save her life.

I picked this book up at the library when looking for Bridget Collins’ ‘The binding’. Lured in by the beautiful cover and the promise of an original gothic novel, I immediately started reading it.

The story opens in London with Frannie in jail for the brutal murder of her owners, Mr. and Mrs. Benham. She can’t remember anything of that night and doesn’t believe she would be able to murder her mistress whom she loved with all her heart. So she starts writing her story from the beginning, when she was still a house slave at a Jamaican plantation.

I had expected much of this story, but it didn’t live up to my expectations. The story does have some gothic elements such as a murder, a household with secrets and some strange experiments, but I wouldn’t define it as the gothic novel I had hoped it would be.

The story itself is interesting enough, although I got the impression of having it read all before. There are a lot of predictable plot elements and some cliches. Frannie is a complex character and you don’t really get a grip on her.

What really put me off was the writing style. Collins writes in first person but it wasn’t always clear whether something was said in a dialogue or it were just thoughts of Frannie herself. I couldn’t follow what was said and done in some chapters. And especially when the trial begins, it all becomes a mess. Frannie appeals to a certain ‘you’, with which she means her lawyer and this strangely changes the whole narrative and style. There are some revelations at the end, but they couldn’t make up for the rest of the novel.

I must give Sara Collins credit for writing some beautiful lines about the importance of reading. The fact that Frannie has learned to read and can share that knowledge with Marguerite is an important aspect of the story. It makes her even more the outcast.

But in the end, I’m disappointed by this book. Yes, it has an original main character and it talks about slavery and racial debate, so in that sense it’s an important story to tell. But I couldn’t see past the messy writing style and had hoped that the crime aspect would take up a more prominent role in the book.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

What’s your favorite gothic novel?

About reading: the author’s backlist

Whether an avid or a sporadic reader, everyone has some typical reading habits, pet peeves or TBR problems. So I wanted to share mine :). Today’s topic is about my favorite authors and the backlist of their books I still need to read.

This will sound familiar: think of that one book of a new-to-you author that you loved. Remember yourself looking up the synopsis of his or hers other books, adding them to your TBR, maybe even buying them on the spot. And now they are sitting on your shelves. Then you see the announcement that their newest sibling is on its way: a brand-new book by one of your favorite authors… So you pre-order it.

Now, you might think this is becoming a story of all those unread books on my shelves by my favorite writers. But it isn’t. It’s a story about that one book that I always keep unfinished on my shelves, waiting for the next book to be published.

The thing is: I hate the feeling that I have finished all the books of my favorite authors or series. What if there won’t be a next one? Or if I have to wait two more years for it? What if I’m in a reading slump and the only thing that can save me is a book from that particular writer?

So I always keep one book unread from my favorite authors. And when a new book is released I decide to read either that one, or the one sitting unread on my shelves… So I still have one more to go.

Watch the lady for example is the only unread Tudor novel of Elizabeth Fremantle on my shelves. She has started writing historical thrillers set in the Stuart era so I also have ‘The honey and the sting‘ to go. Next time I want to read something from Fremantle I can make my choice between these two books.

The same happend with Sarah Dunant, I saved her ‘In the company of the courtisan‘ a long time as it was the last historical novel I still needed to read from her. But I gave in to the temptation when I was in need of an Italian renaissance fix (one of my favorite periods).

Of course, there are a lot of favorite authors where I’m lacking behind in reading their works. From Joanna Hickson for example, I have three more books to go. But I’m quite sure that when I reach the second one and there hasn’t been a new release yet, I won’t be inclined to read the third and last book of her on my shelves.

The same thing goes with series. I haven’t read the last published Outlander novel ‘written in my own heart’s blood’ because I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the next installment. I have this problem less with shorter series such as a trilogy or with series where the last book is already published (as is now the case with Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon series, although I’m not ready yet for the final book).

I will probably die having not read every single book of my favorite writers or not knowing how certain series will end.

Anyone else having this problem? Or is it just me?

The last hours by Minette Walters

1348. A strange and deadly sickness kills whole villages near Dorsetsire in England. When Lady Anne of Develish hears of this so called ‘Black Death’, she decides to bring all the serfs inside the walls, much against the will of her daughter Eleanor and her Norman steward. Lady Anne even refuses her husband Sir Richard entrance when he comes back from a journey and carries the sickness with him. But while in quarantine the social order between serfs and their lords is overturned. A dramatic event and the fear of starvation forces a few of them to leave, unsure about what they will find outside.

I picked this one up in the library hoping to discover an excellent and bulky historical story. Reading about a pandemic seemed appropriate now and the Black Death is one of these almost mythical illnesses we still don’t know a lot about today.

We meet Lady Anne of Develish who was educated by nuns and has different views on social class and hygiene. She is much beloved by her serfs but hated by her daughter Eleanor because she favors the bastard serf Thaddeus Thurkell.

I had hoped this book would tell me more about the plague, but actually the focus is on the little community of Develish and its underlying secrets. I did not really like one of the main characters. Especially Eleanor is the kind of person you want to be the first to perish from this new disease :D. There is also a strong sexual abuse theme and I’m still not sure what to think about that storyline.

Somewhere in the middle of the novel Thaddeus goes outside with five companions looking for food. And from that moment I started scanning through the pages as I found their journey quite boring. I couldn’t get all the names and wasn’t interested in the boys’ childish worries. I did read the parts within Develish as I liked to read about the social order during this time and how the quarantine turned it all over.

The novel has an open ending, the story is not finished yet. Luckily, the sequel ‘the turn of midnight’ is already out, but I won’t read it. I believe I was just too disappointed about the story itself and expected a more gripping read about the devastating consequences of a pandemic.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Have you read a good novel about the Black Death?

October recap

Hi all! Hope you are doing well out there. I haven’t had the best of months in October. Some stressy situations at home and at work at the same time, and all the while the world is still going crazy. So this had an impact on the amount of time I could devote to reading. Also the fact that I started with high expectations on a certain book that I struggled to finish at the end didn’t help. But here’s my recap.

Read(ing)

I managed to finish three books in October and when you are reading this I will have finished ‘Sovereign’ also. I enjoyed both Valhalla and The revolt as they tell the story of two formidable queens: Mary of Teck and Eleanor Of Aquitaine. I expected a solid gothic novel from ‘The confessions of Frannie Langton’ but it turned out this wasn’t a book for me. Especially the writing put me off. Too bad!

To avoid a reading slump, I started ‘sovereign’. And yes, this is again so good. I like the setting of this Shardlake mystery: the summer progress in the north in 1541 when Henry VIII is married to his fifth queen Catherine Howard. Although I do know what will happen, I’m still intrigued by the murder mystery and all the other plot lines.

Number of pages read: 1.274
Number of books finished: 3
Favorite read: Valhalla by Alan Robert Clark
Centuries visited: 12th century, 16th century, 19th century, and 20th century
Countries visited: England, France and Jamaica
Currently reading: I’m at page 501 of Sovereign by C.J. Sansom
Next up: The gates of Athens by Conn Iggulden

Reviewed

Added to my TBR

I bought one Kindle book that made it to my TBR this month:

I’m behind reading all of your reviews so I didn’t add any other books to my list. Strange, I know. But it has been a tough month.

Watched

  • I enjoyed some Disney classics and live action movies such as Beauty and the beast, Tangled, Up and The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.
  • Hamilton of course, on repeat on Spotify and Disney+. I already know some songs by hard :D.
  • The boyfriend and I are still watching Knightfall and are in the middle of season 2 of Peaky Blinders.

Links I enjoyed

How was your October?

The Revolt by Clara Dupont-Monod

Richard Lionheart is rebelling against his father, the Plantagenet king of England, together with his brothers Henry and Geoffrey. The rebellion unites the heirs to the throne with France, the southern lords and Aquitaine, the country of Richard’s infamous mother: Queen Eleanor Of Aquitaine. After having divorced the king of France, Eleanor remarried the Plantagenet only to be cast aside after having bared him 8 children. Now she’s looking for revenge. One thing is sure: this battle will torn the family apart.

The revolt is a short novel that focuses on the rebellion of Eleanor Of Aquitaine and her sons against Henry II, king of England in 1173. The novel is split up in three parts—before, during and after the revolt—and mainly told by Richard Lionheart. Although there are some chapters Eleanor, Henry and Alys (Richard’s ex-fiancé) are at word.

I’m quite familiar with the story and I loved Elizabeth Chadwick’s trilogy about Eleanor very much. But still the author managed to surprise me at some parts. Especially the fact that she chooses to tell the story from Richard’s perspective, even the parts before his birth, was surprising. But somehow, it worked for me as long as the story was focusing on the revolt itself.

At the end, it gets a bit messy when Richard leaves for the Holy Land. It feels like the start of a different story because Eleanor wasn’t near Richard at that time. And it’s her figure that really makes this book compelling.

This Eleanor is mysterious, cold and intimidating. Just how I imagine her. I got some new insights on her relationship with Louis, King of France (Eleanor’s first husband) and the role he played in the rebellion. I found Louis’s relationship with Eleanor’s sons one of the most interesting aspects of the story.

This might not be the best fictional retelling of Eleanor’s life because of its shortness. But it’s a well-written account of the revolt and how it tore a whole family apart.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher to provide me a copy of this book in return for my honest opinion.

Valhalla by Alan Robert Clark

Princess May Of Teck moves with her parents to Florence after they have fallen from grace within the English royal family. The serious May likes Florence and the company of painter Henry Thaddeus Jones. After their return to England, Queen Victoria wants May to marry Eddie, her grandson and second in line to the throne. Against all odds, Eddie and May become fond of each other. But when Eddie suddenly dies of the flu, May’s future becomes unsecure.

I must admit I didn’t know anything of Queen Mary’s life before I read this novel. My knowledge of the British royal family stops at Queen Victoria, apart from the current’s queen of course :). So Valhalla gave me a nice insight in the young May Of Teck and the formidable woman she would later become.

This is a story about love and duty. And the longing for freedom of a young woman not able to make her own choices. It’s about the sad loss of a prince and how it can torn a whole family apart.

I feel I now have a better understanding of Mary Of Teck’s young life, although some of the elements in the novel are fictional or only based on rumors (her love interests for example). Mary is often seen as an ice-queen alongside her husband George V. In this book you get to know the young couple and how they try to keep up appearances. I had hoped to learn more about Georgie’s character and the king he would be.

At first the writing style didn’t really grip me. I just couldn’t always follow who said what. Halfway the book, I felt a connection with May and I just wanted to know how her story would end. At that point, I was used to the writing and I enjoyed the book a lot.

The title ‘Valhalla’ is only explained in the last chapter. I believe it would have worked out better if it had been mentioned earlier in the book. Now it felt a bit artificial.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher to provide me a copy of this book in return for my honest opinion.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

What’s your favorite book about royalty?

New in #2

Hi guys, how you’re all doing? In Belgium there are some new COVID-19 restrictions, so I’m back at working from home every day of the week, at least for the coming month. This also means I will not be able to get to the library a lot :(. Luckily I have some new reads on my shelves.

From the library

I still managed to go to library at the beginning of this month! Lucky I am. There weren’t many book available from my autumn TBR however. This is what I picked up:

Sovereign by C.J. Sansom: the only book from my autumn TBR. Looking forward to reading this one.

The confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins: I was looking for ‘The binding’ by Bridget Collings when I stumbled on this one. The beautiful cover and the promise of a dark gothic story lured me in. I immediately started reading this one.

The gates of Athen by Conn Iggulden: I can’t say how much I loved Iggulden’s series about Caesar and Brutus. But I’m a bit behind with his other books (his Wars Of The Roses trilogy for example). This is the first book in a new series set in ancient Greece.

New e-books

The heretic wind by Judith Arnopp: I’ve always wanted to read something of Judith Arnopp. When I saw that this one about Mary Tudor was a Kindle deal, I decided to give it a chance. Mary I is not my favorite Tudor character, but I find her reign and the struggles between Catholics and Protestants quite interesting.

Netgalley

In the meantime, I’ve been approved for some interesting Netgalley books.

A time for swords by Matthew Harffy – A book about the battle between Danes and Saxons. This will be my next Viking fix.

The revolt by Clara Dupont-Monod – A short novel about Eleanor Of Aquitaine and her sons. It’s a translation from a French book and I’m already reading this one. So far, I like it.

The fabargé secret by Charles Delfoure – A book during the tsar regime in Russia. I always love pre-revolution stories set in Russia.

The forgotten orphan by Glynes Peters – A WOII story. I don’t know what to expect from this one but I will give it a chance.

Which books are you looking forward to reading? What’s new on your shelves?

The testimony of Alys twist by Suzannah Dunn

Orphan Alys Twist has done well for herself and accepts a position as laundress at the Royal Wardrobe of the new queen Mary Tudor. At court she meets Bel, the tailor’s daughter, and the two girls start an intimate friendship. When the new queen wants a Spanish marriage and a return to the old Catholic ways, rebellion is coming to London and some people speak out in favor of her half-sister, the lady Elizabeth. Alys is sent as a spy to Elizabeth’s household to report back on her.

I previously read two novels of Suzannah Dunn, the first being ‘The queen of subtleties‘ about Anne Boleyn which I disliked and the second was ‘The May bride‘ about a young Jane Seymour that I enjoyed enough to give Dunn another try.

In ‘the testimony of Alys Twist‘ we again travel to Tudor England where the new queen Mary Tudor has just been crowned after the short reign of her cousin Lady Jane Grey. Mary is much beloved by the public and everyone is hoping that this will be the start of a new chapter for England. We meet young laundress Alys who carries a past with her and tries to find her place at the Royal Wardrobe. She befriends Bel and the two of them start to hang around together.

But when the new queen is looking to Spain for a marriage and wants to reinstall the Catholic faith, tensions start to rise with the protestant fractions resulting in the Wyatt Rebellion. Mary’s half-sister and heir to the throne Elizabeth is named as a conspirator. Alys gets charged with going to Ashridge to spy on the princess. As a laundress nobody is taking any notice of her and she can report back on what is said and done within the household.

I loved to read about Mary’s reign, as she is mostly overlooked in favor of her sister Elizabeth. From the Wyatt rebellion, the dramatic marriage with Philip of Spain to the burnings, you can feel how her people are having a hard time to accept that the new queen wants to turn back time.

Alys is a bit of a strange main character. As a laundress she can easily move within a royal household but she isn’t a real part of it. She’s still far from the action. Therefore, there’s a strong focus on her own story and for me Alys’ story was a bit of mess. She has a past she wants to keep secret at any cost, she falls in love with the wrong person and she doesn’t know where her loyalties lie—with the queen or the princess?

Also the whole spying on the princess thing turns out a bit different from what I thought it would be. I had hoped to get more of an insight into Elizabeth’s character and how she copes with her arrest and consequent house arrest at Woodstock. But Alys only comes occasionally into her room to pick up the dirty laundry.

All this results in a sudden ending of the story and too many loose ends. Dunn also uses very modern language, something that already bothered me in her previous works, but it doesn’t really feel like an issue here. I think I’m simply disappointed in the story itself. If you want to read something from Suzannah Dunn, I heartily recommend ‘The May Bride’, as it is still the better novel I’ve read from her.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher to provide me a copy of this book in return for my honest opinion.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant doesn’t like surprises. She is living alone on the same flat and working at the same office for years. Every Wednesday she calls her mum and every Friday night she buys a pizza and two bottles of wodka. When Eleanor and her new colleague Raymond help an old man after an accident on the street, she is forced to break her routine. At the same time she has met the men of her life. The only problem is that he doesn’t know it yet.

I don’t read many non historical books. Only a few per year. This one was a Christmas gift from my sister-in-a-law and coincidence or not, I already had this book on my TBR list as everyone seemed to love it. Yep, I’m the kind of person that reads a hyped book just to know what all the fuzz is about. I have decided to also review them on this blog.

Eleanor Oliphant is a quirky main character. A recipe that always makes for a good story. But sometimes it doesn’t work out for me (I found ‘Stoner’ for example utterly disappointing). But this is a good story. Once your start reading, you just know that Eleanor is not ok but that she tries to cope with her life in a different way than any of us would. We all recognize something of ourselves in Eleanor. She’s human with all her faults and flaws.

Not much happens. Eleanor meets a new colleague who truly shows an interest in her and together they bring an old man to the hospital. This sets some things in motion. Slowly you discover her past as Raymond and Sammy force Eleanor to open up her heart and leave her safe habits behind. Her character development is the sole focus of the book. A lot of bad things happened to Eleanor and you wish her all the best. Still the book had me at a certain plot twist and I was fulfilled at the end.

Honeyman writes a wonderful story, beautifully paced, although sometimes with some difficult literary words. As this was her debut novel it’s quite impressive that Eleanor conquered a place in the heart of so many readers. One of the better non historical books I’ve read in recent years.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Have you read this one? Are you a routine person or do you just go with the flow?

Autumn TBR

Autumn is here and although is’t not my favorite season and I’m already missing summer, I still think it’s better than winter. Long nature walks, board game nights with friends and of course some reading under a blanket with a cup of hot chocolate.

I might be late to the party but I decided to make an autumn TBR as I don’t have specific reading plans yet and this post can help me pick up a next book. According to Goodreads I only need to read six books by the end of the year to finish my reading challenge of 35, but I hope to finish above that number.

Books I hope to grab in the library:
It’s always a guess which books I can borrow from the library, so mostly my list is a lot bigger than I know I will be able to read.

As I won’t make it to the library as much as in non covid times and I need to choose from what is available then, I’ll probably also bring home other books not mentioned above.

Kindle books on the shelf

I still have three interesting books to go on my Kindle, maybe this autumn?

Netgalley books

In the meantime, I’ve been approved for some really interesting Netgalley books, most of them with a publication date in December, so I will read them this autumn.

From my own bookshelves

Sometimes I forget I also have some physical books to read from my favorite authors :D. I have selected two that might be my next read.

  • Queen of the north by Anne O’ Brien – I loved ‘the shadow queen’ by Anne O’Brien a lot. So I’ve decided I want to read all of her books. This story about Elizabeth Mortimer is set during a rebellion under king Richard II’s reign.
  • First of the Tudors by Joanna Hickson – I’m lagging behind in reading Hickson’s books. She’s in the middle of some books set at the beginning of the Tudor reign. First of the Tudors is about Jasper Tudor, Henry’s VI uncle who helped him win the throne.

I know I won’t be able to read all these books this autumn, and I might even pick up some that aren’t on this list. But it’s always nice to have some inspiration when choosing my next read.

What will you be reading this autumn?